State threatens suit over federal sage-grouse action

If Interior Secretary Sally Jewell opts to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as endangered, “She will get sued” by Colorado, said the man appointed to manage the state’s dealings with grouse.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed the Gunnison sage-grouse for listing under the Endangered Species Act and is to decide on the bird’s status and to designate areas of critical habitat for the species by May 12.

However Jewell decides the question, the state is prepared, said John Swartout, who was asked by Gov. John Hickenlooper to deal with the possible listing of the Gunnison and greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

“It all comes down to litigation,” Swartout said. If Jewell lists the Gunnison species, the state will sue, he said.

“We can win that case,” he said. Conversely, it also can defend a court challenge if the bird isn’t listed, he said.

The state’s hand is strengthened by decades of work with the bird that shows efforts among 11 Colorado counties over more than two decades are having a positive effect, Swartout said.

State agencies, ranchers and county governments have been involved in saving the bird.

“I’ve never seen that kind of unanimous sentiment” among the state’s wildlife experts who have dealt with the Gunnison sage-grouse, Swartout said.

There are about 5,000 known Gunnison sage-grouse, with the largest concentration, about 4,000 birds, in Colorado’s Gunnison Basin.

The Gunnison sage grouse, which is slightly smaller than its cousin, the greater sage-grouse, was recognized as a distinct species in 2000.


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